"I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them."

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004

Obstacles for the Gulf States

Dina Esfandiary, Elham Fakhro, and Becca Wasser

Judging by their official statements, the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East ranks high on the list of policy priorities of the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).[1] As countries bordering a once-proliferating, aggressive state (Iraq); facing another suspected of seeking a nuclear weapons capability and bent on regional hegemony (Iran); and living in the vicinity of nuclear powers outside the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) regime (India, Israel, and Pakistan), they arguably have a paramount security interest in its rapid formation.

As with other stated policy objectives of the Persian Gulf states, however, work toward this goal is hampered by competing priorities and the resulting limits on time and resources that the countries can devote to the issue. Other constraints include enduring political and strategic considerations, such as diverging threat perceptions and the absence of a common security agenda. In recent years, the Gulf states, mostly through nongovernmental experts, have conducted significant work on the scope, reach, and implementation requirements of a regional WMD-free zone and in 2005 even adopted the idea of a subregional WMD-free zone in the Persian Gulf. Yet, attention and political investment ahead of the planned 2012 conference on establishing such a zone in the Middle East seem to be sorely lacking. Beyond the usual inertia, this reflects profound skepticism about the very feasibility of this project and the ability to involve Iran and Israel in a meaningful manner. Consequently, it is doubtful that the Gulf states see the upcoming conference as a crucial moment in their quest for security.

The Gulf states face an increasingly complex security environment, compounded by dramatic changes in the regional order in the past decade, including the still-unclear ripple effects of the Arab upheavals of 2011. They must balance their acute, immediate worry about Iran’s nuclear progress and its regional implications with Israel’s nuclear status, a more distant, less threatening but politically more constraining concern. Whether and how the search for a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone affects the Gulf states’ own regional security preferences remains unclear. In addition, they have to adapt to shifting global politics and the erosion of the power of the United States, their traditional security provider.

Options for a WMD-Free Zone

For a long time, the Gulf states were bit players in terms of WMD proliferation. Unlike their immediate neighbors Iran and Iraq, none of the Gulf states attempted to develop or acquire WMD capabilities indigenously. They were also marginal in the regional nonproliferation debate, an agenda driven by larger, strategically more powerful states such as Egypt and Iran, which jointly proposed a UN resolution calling for a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone in 1974. UN Security Council Resolution 687, which ended the 1991 Gulf War, called for both a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone and a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone as cornerstones of a regional security arrangement. This idea, reiterated in the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference’s Resolution on the Middle East, floundered because a readily available external security guarantee seemed more effective and politically affordable for the Gulf states in the wake of the U.S. defeat of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Little progress was made in discussions known as the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) process. Held in parallel with the Arab-Israeli peace process, the talks broke down over differences between Egypt and Israel, two countries locked in a complex security relationship. Egypt’s insistence on discussing Israel’s nuclear status clashed with Israel’s unwillingness to do so before comprehensive peace and full normalization. Neither Iran nor Iraq was a participant in those talks; the Gulf states attended only at low levels and as marginal players.

Serious interest among the Gulf states in a WMD-free zone is more recent. It is directly linked to revelations since 2002 about Iran’s secret nuclear activity and subsequent progress in its apparent quest for a nuclear weapons capability. The states’ interest also coincided with their increased political, strategic, and economic prominence and the drastic changes in the regional order, most notably Iran’s growing regional reach and appeal.[2] Gulf leaders struggled to articulate in public their private fears about Iran’s nuclear program. They feared that confronting a defiant and ascendant Iran whose popularity in the Arab world was growing would expose a schism between ruling elites and peoples. They also feared that it would provoke a rhetorical escalation in which the Gulf states, generally averse to posturing and public controversy, would stand accused of obedience to the West and appeasement of Israel.

Still, the Gulf states felt the need to frame Iran’s suspected nuclear ambitions as a regional challenge as well as a global proliferation concern and to express their anxiety in a subtle, legitimate manner. This combination of factors provided the impetus behind an innovative policy initiative started in 2004 by the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center about a subregional WMD-free zone covering the six Gulf states plus Iran, Iraq, and Yemen.

The research center’s framework became the basis for the formal proposal for a Gulf WMD-free zone by the Gulf states.[3] The proposal, although genuine, served primarily as a vehicle to press and test Iran and create political space for the Gulf states by deferring the question of how the Gulf states should respond if Iran were to weaponize its nuclear program. Other ways of legitimizing their concerns included recognizing Iran’s right to civil nuclear energy but stressing its international obligations,[4] raising questions about nuclear safety in that country,[5] and putting forward ideas for nuclear cooperation and multinational uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing facilities.[6]

Iran’s response to the proposal was ambiguous at best and, in the words of a Gulf official, smacked of contempt for its smaller neighbors. Although Tehran formally embraced the proposal’s principles, it linked any approval to prior Israeli nuclear disarmament and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Gulf. The former is beyond the GCC’s ability to deliver; the second is unthinkable from the perspective of countries whose external security depends for the foreseeable future on foreign security providers. Iran also dismissed the Gulf states’ environmental concerns, remained purposely noncommittal about verification and monitoring, and accepted the idea for multinational fuel banks only if Iran were allowed to keep its indigenous enrichment capabilities.

This episode further hardened views in Gulf capitals about Iran’s intentions and nuclear path. Paradoxically, it also validated the notion that the Gulf states have little to contribute to any diplomatic initiative to alter Iran’s strategic thinking.

The Planned 2012 Conference

From the perspective of the Gulf states, the strategic environment has only worsened in recent years. This includes the loss of Iraq as a bulwark, the ascendancy and deepening reach of Iran, the perceived weakening of their strategic position following the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the paralysis on the Arab-Israeli front, the rise to power of an intransigent Benjamin Netanyahu, and questions about the strategic wisdom and policy competence of their U.S. ally.

Gulf anxiety about suspected Iranian manipulation and malevolence has peaked since the beginning of the Arab Spring. This compounds the twin, worst-case assumptions Gulf leaders make about Iran: that it is not merely interested in a nuclear weapons capability but in the bomb itself and that U.S.-orchestrated international diplomacy based on sanctions and conditional engagement will slow Iran’s nuclear progress only marginally at best. The Gulf states have come to see Iran’s nuclear program as the shield that allows Iran’s sword—its proxies, ideological and religious appeal, and propaganda efforts—to penetrate the Arab world.

In fact, perhaps principally to raise urgency and keep Washington focused, the Gulf states have espoused hawkish views on Iran. In July 2010, the UAE ambassador to Washington publicly stated that the benefits of a U.S. bombing of Iran’s nuclear program outweighed the short-term costs that such an attack would impose.[7] In a 2008 cable published by WikiLeaks in late 2010, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia exhorted U.S. diplomats to “cut off the head of the snake,” a reference to U.S. military strikes against Iran.

The debate is open in the Gulf states about whether countering the challenge of regional proliferation requires a greater abidance by and advocacy of international norms as a means of global protection or a less internationalist strategy that leverages wealth and geo-economic standing to strengthen and diversify bilateral strategic relationships. Their approach so far has involved both elements.

The Gulf states have been largely silent in the discussions to date about the 2012 conference, but as good global citizens and for their own national security ­interests, they can ill afford to ignore the conference. A conference that singles out Israel, whether it attends or boycotts the event, but ignores Iran would confirm their fears about the inevitability of a nuclear-armed Iran and the prospect of being squeezed between nuclear rivals. Moreover, the Gulf states want to avoid an outcome that enshrines a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone as the sole regional security architecture rather than one of its key elements.[8] This distinction is aimed primarily at preserving the Gulf states’ paramount security relationships. Given their low expectations, they might be satisfied with an outcome in which other states, notably Iran and Israel, emerge from the conference as the culprits behind continued regional instability. Even better would be a process for overcoming the instability.

At the same time, the Gulf states want to avoid the responsibility of agenda setting and advocacy on nuclear proliferation. Except for some prior disagreements with Cairo over their backing of a Gulf WMD-free zone, they have seemed content with Egyptian leadership. Importantly, although Egypt derives prestige and influence from its nonproliferation advocacy, the Gulf states seem uninterested, preferring to focus on exploring the prospects for introducing civilian nuclear energy, as the UAE has contracted to do. Given the turmoil in Cairo and questions about Egypt’s strategic trajectory, however, it is plausible that Egypt will be unable to define a coherent, workable position and mobilize Arab support. Eyes would then turn to the Gulf states, most notably Saudi Arabia, for guidance.

Recently, Saudi Arabia has shown signs of distrust and displeasure with the West and the United States in particular. Saudi assertions of power have culminated in comments by a senior Saudi royal, Prince Turki al-Faisal, that a nuclear Iran “would compel Saudi Arabia . . . to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences.”[9] This was widely understood as a threat to proliferate in kind, perhaps as a trial balloon. Curbing the likelihood of an arms race in response to Iran’s nuclear program is perhaps why the Obama administration is exploring the possibility of a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia.

Another matter of concern for the Gulf states will be the political cost associated with the conference. When the Obama administration threw its support behind the 2012 conference, it was partly out of hope that it would help create an atmosphere conducive to progress on the Arab-Israeli track. This expectation has floundered over the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The conference could well be hijacked over that issue, placing the Gulf states in a potentially embarrassing situation. Indeed, the Gulf states need political cover in order to be taken seriously in their calls for a regional security conference, and this cover comes from the peace process. By pursuing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East without a peace process underway, the Gulf states would be seen as making too many concessions to the United States without making any gains on the Arab-Israeli track.

A key divergence with other Arab states has been in the priority they assign to particular regional proliferation issues. Distance and history have convinced the Gulf states that Israel poses no immediate threat and that focusing too much on its arsenal could divert attention from the more potent Iranian challenge. It is notable that the Gulf states tied normalization with Israel to comprehensive peace with its neighbors but not to prior Israeli nuclear disarmament. (Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab states that have signed peace agreements with Israel, also have not conditioned their peace treaty on disarmament, but rather on good faith negotiations in parallel to the peace process, something Israel has been reluctant to undertake.) Still, the Gulf states must show responsiveness toward what has become an entrenched Arab slogan about the need to ban nuclear weapons from the Middle East. This limits the policy options for the Gulf states and probably will keep them confined to the role of chorus at the 2012 conference. ACT



Dina Esfandiary, Elham Fakhro, and Becca Wasser are research analysts with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.





1. Despite their differences on other foreign policy matters, the Gulf states seem to agree on the need for a comprehensive regional security framework such as a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.

2. The Gulf states’ view on Iran’s regional meddling is visible in the closing or public statements after their meetings. For example, in April, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) called on Iran to “cease interfering in the internal affairs of the GCC.” See GCC, “21st EU-GCC Joint Council and Ministerial Meeting Abu Dhabi,” April 20, 2011, www.gcc-sg.org/eng/index5ec6.html?action=Sec-Show&ID=322.

3. For official documents on the Gulf WMD-free zone, see Gulf Research Center (GRC), “Nuclearization of the Gulf,” Security and Terrorism Research Bulletin, No. 7 (December 2007), pp. 32–37, www.isn.ethz.ch/isn/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?ots591=0c54e3b3-1e9c-be1e-2c24-a6a8c7060233&lng=en&id=56136.

4. Kareem Shaheen, “Sheikh Abdullah Calls for an End to Iran Stand-off,” The National, December 8, 2010.

5. Dina Al-Shibeeb, “Iran’s Bushehr to Endanger the Gulf If Quake Hits,” Al-Arabiya, April 2, 2011.

6. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), “Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the Shadow of Iran,” IISS Strategic Dossier, May 20, 2008, ch. 2.

7. Eli Lake, “UAE Diplomat Mulls Hit on Iran’s Nukes,” The Washington Times, July 6, 2010.

8. GRC, “Nuclearization of the Gulf,” p. 10.

9. Jason Burke, “Riyadh Will Build Nuclear Weapons If Iran Gets Them, Saudi Prince Warns,” The Guardian, June 29, 2011.

It is doubtful that the Gulf states see the 2012 conference as crucial to their security, but with the negotiations forming a key piece of the regional security architecture, they cannot afford to ignore it.

Iran and a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Middle East

Alireza Nader

A nuclear-weapon-free zone for the Middle East was first proposed by Iran in 1974.[1] Iran’s last reigning monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, championed the idea of such a zone, perhaps as a way to enhance Iran’s leadership role in the region despite his own nuclear ambitions. The Islamic Republic of Iran, which replaced the monarchy in 1979, is believed to be pursuing a nuclear weapons capability despite intense international diplomatic and economic pressure. Nevertheless, Iranian leaders, who claim that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, have been enthusiastic about the planned 2012 conference on establishing a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The conference could serve Iran’s geopolitical interests by providing an opportunity to exploit Arab divisions and shift the focus away from Iran toward Israel’s nuclear arsenal, thereby undermining U.S. efforts to stop the Iranian nuclear program.

Iran’s Nuclear Pursuit

Iran’s pursuit of a potential nuclear weapons capability is rooted in a deep sense of insecurity. In the three decades since its revolution, Iran has survived internal and external threats and conflict ranging from anti-revolutionary insurgencies to the Iran-Iraq War. It views the United States as the central threat to its continued existence and as the greatest obstacle to its regional ambitions. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) were seen by Iranian leaders as a prelude to regime change in their own country. Protests following the 2009 presidential election have heightened Iranian fears of a “velvet revolution” designed to overthrow the regime. Tehran’s efforts to develop a possible nuclear weapons capability should therefore be viewed through the prism of its rivalry with the United States.

Iranian foreign policy may appear ideological at times, but it is driven by perceived interests and cost-benefit calculations. Iran’s nuclear policy and potential nuclear posture are shaped by internal and external factors (factional political competition and the threat from the United States) rather than purely ideological motives, namely a supposed desire to “destroy” Israel. Hence, Iran’s objective may be to reach a virtual nuclear weapons stage in which it possesses the capability to assemble the weapons if need be. A virtual nuclear posture could be much more beneficial than an ambiguous posture, in which Iran assembles weapons but does not admit to having them, much like Israel, or a declared posture, in which Iran assembles nuclear weapons and tests them. A virtual nuclear Iran could offer Iran deterrence against the United States while preventing its total isolation in the Middle East and beyond.[2]

Hostility Toward Israel

Arab hostility toward Iran is a key factor in Tehran’s calculations, including on its nuclear program. The Islamic revolution of 1979 and the new regime’s efforts to “export” the revolution to Arab countries heightened Arab fears of an assertive and ideologically driven Shia Iran. Arab suspicions of Iran have been exacerbated by the victory of pro-Iranian Shia parties in Iraq and by Iran’s continuing nuclear program. Saudi Arabia and the smaller states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in particular, wish to blunt Iranian influence across the region.

The upheavals of the Arab Spring have sharpened the Saudi-Iranian rivalry in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia fears Iranian ascendance as Tehran attempts to exploit the Arab uprisings and the overthrow of pro-U.S. regimes for its own benefit. From the Saudi and U.S. perspectives, Arab unity is essential to containing Iran and stopping its nuclear program. Iran, which styles itself as the leader of the Muslim world, would see its power and influence wane in the face of a uniformly hostile Arab world.

Tehran’s vehement opposition to Israel has alleviated some of the pressures it faces from Arab countries. Arabs tend to view Israel more negatively than they view Iran. In addition, Arab populations, as opposed to the conservative anti-Iranian Arab regimes, appear to view the Iranian nuclear program as the lesser threat to regional security when compared to Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians.[3] Iran’s image as the force of resistance against Israel may justify some of its more assertive behavior in the eyes of Arab public opinion.

Iran’s support of the 2012 conference on a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone is therefore based on Tehran’s opposition to Israel as the “real” threat to regional peace and stability. Iranian leaders have continually criticized Israel for being the only country in the Middle East to possess nuclear weapons. According to Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, “[T]he Zionist regime is the only obstacle to the creation of a Middle-East free from nuclear weapons.”[4] A 2012 conference that focuses on Israel would counter the U.S. strategy of containing Iran by deflecting Arab pressure from Iran toward Israel. The United States, naturally, opposes a 2012 conference that would have a strong focus on Israel.

Arab Divisions

Diverging Arab interests could split Arab unity on the WMD-free zone and serve Iran’s objectives. Egypt has been a strong advocate of a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East and could play a crucial role not only in the 2012 conference, but also in U.S. efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear drive. The fall of Hosni Mubarak has reinvigorated Egypt’s role as a leader of the Arab world; Egypt could be expected to pursue more independent foreign policies in the future. Egyptian revolutionaries, including the Muslim Brotherhood, do not appear as beholden to U.S. interests as the Mubarak regime. Egypt’s ties to and interests with Israel have especially come under greater scrutiny. A post-Mubarak Egypt could increasingly question Israel’s nuclear capability while making it a focus of discussions on the WMD-free zone.

Post-Mubarak Egypt also views Iran in a different light. Egyptian officials have discussed restoring diplomatic ties with Iran severed after the Islamic revolution. This does not necessarily indicate an Egyptian tilt toward Iran, but rather a rebalancing of Egyptian interests and priorities. Egypt may view Iran as a geopolitical rival, but it is not directly threatened by Iranian ambitions or military capabilities. Egypt’s greatest concern is Israel’s conventional and nuclear capabilities.

The GCC countries, on the other hand, do not feel directly threatened by Israel, but see Iran as an existential threat. Saudi Arabia and the GCC states have proposed a nuclear-weapon-free Persian Gulf zone that excludes Israel and focuses on Iran’s nuclear pursuit.

Perhaps it is too early to determine if the 2012 conference and its participants will seriously entertain the possibility of a nuclear-weapon-free zone or merely use the gathering as an Israel-bashing forum. The upheaval in the Arab world may prove to be a significant distraction for all concerned.[5] What is clear is that each state will bring its own narrow interests and agenda to the table.

Iran in particular will see the conference as a chance to resist U.S. diplomatic and economic pressures against its nuclear program. Its focus on Israel as the real culprit will win it some Arab sympathy, particularly among non-Gulf Arab countries such as Egypt. In addition, Iran’s possible goal of achieving a virtual nuclear weapons capability does not necessarily contradict its stated goal of a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone. In Iran’s view, Israel is the only country in the Middle East to possess nuclear weapons, while Iran’s program has been “peaceful” or virtual.

Iran’s objective of sustaining opposition to Israel while pursuing its own nuclear weapons program is aided by Israel’s unwillingness to give up its nuclear arsenal before it has achieved peace with all Middle Eastern states. However, regional peace is highly unlikely as long as the United States and Iran compete for regional primacy and as Iran continues its quest for a nuclear weapons capability. A conference that does not solely focus on Israel, but also the Iranian nuclear program and the threats of proliferation in the Middle East, can help counter Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapons capability. ACT


Alireza Nader is an international policy analyst at the RAND Corporation and co-author of Iran’s Nuclear Future: Critical U.S. Policy Choices (2011).



1. Egypt also sponsored the concept that year. See Rebecca Stevens and Amin Tarzi, “Egypt and the Middle East Resolution at the NPT 2000 Review Conference,” CNS Reports, April 24, 2000.

2. For more on Iran’s motivations and possible nuclear posture, see Lynn Davis et al., Iran’s Nuclear Future: Critical U.S. Policy Choices, RAND Corporation, June 2011.

3. James Zogby, “Arab Attitudes, 2011,” Arab American Institute Foundation, July 2011.

4. “Iran’s N. Confab Slams U.S. as World’s No. 1 Violator of NPT,” Fars News Agency, June 13, 2011.

5. Anne Penketh, “Unrest Complicates 2012 Middle East Meeting,” Arms Control Today, March 2011.

The planned 2012 conference could serve Iran’s geopolitical interests by providing an opportunity to exploit Arab divisions and shift the focus away from Iran toward Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

Placing WMD in Context

Emily B. Landau

If things go according to plan, a conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East is due to take place in 2012. The considerable political challenges involved in convening this conference have become much more complicated of late in light of the political turmoil that has been rocking the Middle East since early this year. Although the date of the conference may get pushed back, unofficial Track II discussions already have begun to consider the prospects and logic of such a conference, which has effectively renewed the debate over the meaning and future of regional WMD arms control efforts in the Middle East.

These discussions indicate the serious consideration being given to the prospects for a conference on a WMD-free zone and underscore that a new regional arms control process must begin with a hard look at the realities in this region. There is a need to dispel some of the commonly voiced myths that continue to cloud and confuse many of the discussions on WMD arms control in the Middle East, particularly as far as nuclear weapons are concerned.

One of the most problematic assertions in the debate is that nuclear weapons actually have no value because they cannot be used. The advocates of nuclear disarmament who make this claim argue that nuclear arms should simply be eliminated because they have no value and, at the same time, are extremely dangerous. However, even the most superficial examination of international relations since 1945 would easily convince one that this is not obvious and that disarmament is anything but simple. Although over the 65 years of nonuse a strong norm developed, according to which nuclear weapons are weapons of deterrence and not use, states nevertheless continue to consider them to have tremendous strategic value. Beyond the bolstered security to be gained through nuclear deterrence, states that pursue nuclear weapons might do so for the prestige that accompanies their acquisition or for the ability to threaten their neighbors more effectively, safe in the knowledge that external parties will be much more wary about intervening on behalf of the threatened parties.

The implications for other states of one state’s nuclear possession can be either relatively benign (if the weapons are a way to ensure the possessor state’s survival) or dangerous (as a means of threatening other states), but there undoubtedly are strategic benefits to be gained by going nuclear. Otherwise, determined proliferators would not be devoting so much time, energy, and resources to attaining them, and the current nuclear-weapon states would have no problem in giving them up. In short, the desire of disarmament proponents to change this reality should not be confused with a description of the current role of nuclear weapons in international relations.

States can utilize the strategic value of nuclear weapons in either a benign or a dangerous manner. It is important to take this fact into account when discussing WMD arms control, especially in the Middle East. The threat posed to other states from one state’s possession of nuclear weapons is not just a matter of perspective or in the eye of the beholder. The differences among states are real and can be empirically assessed. For example, Israel has been noticeably low-key and defensive with regard to its nuclear capability for decades. In contrast, Iran is breaching its commitment to remain non-nuclear, while couching its nuclear development in highly threatening rhetoric toward its neighbors, especially Israel.

This connects to another myth that is explicitly or implicitly apparent in some of the debates taking place regarding the Middle East: that the nuclear programs of Iran and Israel are comparable. There is no justification for comparing the two states solely on the basis of their nuclear capabilities, due to the vastly different circumstances of their nuclearization and the very different manner with which each state regards these capabilities.

The argument that Iran is moving in a military direction as a response to Israel, with the implication that if Israel were to do away with its assumed nuclear weapons, Iran would have no reason to pursue them, is similarly unfounded. There are no historical or strategic grounds for making such a connection between the two programs.

Israel began its nuclear program in the 1950s with the idea that it needed an insurance policy for long-term survival, and this has been Israel’s sole purpose ever since. Iran restarted its military program in the 1980s as a response to Iraq’s nuclear development, in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War. More importantly, Iran’s present interest in a military nuclear capability stems from Tehran’s desire to entrench its regional power and influence, which will come at the expense of most states in the Middle East, not only Israel. Even if Israel were to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), there is little reason to believe that Iran would discontinue its activities. So saying that “both must disarm,” either on the grounds that all states become instantly identical when the issue of debate is nuclear weapons or that Iran’s nuclear program is linked to Israel’s, propagates a false sense of symmetry that is not helpful for serious regional arms control efforts.

Regional Security

Another issue to be clarified is the concept of regional security and the role of confidence- and security-building measures[1] in that framework. These measures, intended to deal with the tensions, hostility, and mistrust that characterize interstate relations and hamper the states’ ability to cooperate, are the essence of a win-win approach to regional security and have a central role to play in arms control efforts in the Middle East. The idea is to begin with small, mutually advantageous, and nonthreatening steps in order to initiate a dialogue, thus establishing a basis of mutual confidence and trust in the genuine pursuit of enhanced security for all. In light of the harsh and enduring conflicts in the Middle East that gave rise to WMD acquisition, focusing on interstate relations and dynamics is imperative.

An unfortunate result of the early 1990s Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS)[2] talks is that regional security and confidence- and security-building measures became imbued with political content. Rather than being understood as serious arms control measures grounded in a conceptual logic that posits that improving the regional atmosphere is essential in order to approach WMD disarmament, confidence- and security-building measures came to be regarded as Israel’s specific political preference for the talks. Once identified as Israel’s preference, the ideas met with growing opposition in Arab states. This situation needs to be rectified. It must be recognized that arms control efforts and regional security issues are inextricably linked, and the former will not be able to make headway without significant progress in the latter. This message ­resonates even more strongly today than in the 1990s, due to the deterioration of ­regional relations since that time.

The Challenge for 2012

In light of the issues described above, Israel has questions about what will be discussed at the 2012 conference. If it is a venue for improving regional relations and building up a basis for mutual confidence, with the understanding that this will be a long and difficult process in itself, Israel can most likely accept it. However, if it remains strongly linked to the NPT framework, which implicitly sends the message that this is all about nuclear weapons and not other weapons of mass destruction, there is little chance that Israel will view the effort positively. Also, it clearly would be unacceptable to Israel if the efforts remained grounded in the position that Egypt and Iran are strongly advocating, namely that “Israel is the problem.” It should not be forgotten that the 2010 NPT Review Conference final document stipulates that progress with regard to the 2012 conference will be in consultation with states in the region and that these states will have to arrive at these arrangements freely. Israel’s views and concerns must be incorporated.

The heart of the problem in the Middle East is not the weapons but how states relate to one another and to their own international commitments. In regional arms control processes, especially as far as Israel is concerned, weapons of mass destruction cannot be detached from the context of interstate dynamics.

Israel’s nuclear deterrent is considered to have tremendous strategic significance and value; it spells long-term survival for Israel in an extremely hostile and dangerous neighborhood. Israel is not likely to give that up any time soon, nor could the country be expected to do so in light of the threats that it faces from a number of directions. Even in Egypt, a country that has maintained a stable peace with Israel for more than three decades, the current foreign policy discourse advocates ­rethinking its ­relations with Israel.

The most dangerous regional development, however, is Iran’s nuclear advances. The prospect that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons only serves to convince Israel of its need to maintain its ultimate defense in the face of possible annihilation. For Israel, a major problem in the realm of arms control is that states make commitments to international treaties and then proceed to cheat and deceive the international community on their way to a WMD capability. Iran’s slow but (at least until now) unstoppable progress toward a military nuclear capability would be unbearable for Israelis if they were not confident that Israel has the means of deterring a nuclear strike from this hostile and deceptive regime.

The challenge for the organizers of the 2012 conference is to take these hard realities into account when devising the concept and agenda for a new round of arms control talks. Discounting the dangers of unconventional weapons other than nuclear weapons will certainly not help in getting Israel on board, nor will maintaining that Israel is the sole obstacle and that it must first join the NPT—an obvious nonstarter, although it has been a frequent theme at Track II meetings over the past year. Rather, the conference organizers must devise and insist on a step-by-step, win-win logic for the talks, enabling all states to agree to take part and engendering a positive, security-grounded, and forward-­looking process.


Emily B. Landau is director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. She teaches arms control at Tel Aviv University and at the University of Haifa’s International School. She is a frequent participant in Track II initiatives on arms control and regional security in the Middle East.



1. The more common term is “confidence-building measures,” but “confidence- and security-building measures” is the term that was used by the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) Working Group to emphasize both confidence and security.

2. The ACRS Working Group was active for four years (1991–1995) in the framework of the multilateral track of the Madrid peace process. For background, see Emily B. Landau, “ACRS: What Worked, What Didn’t, and What Could Be Relevant for the Region Today,” Disarmament Forum, No. 2 (2008), www.unidir.ch/bdd/­fiche-article.php?ref_article=2727.

In light of the harsh and enduring conflicts in the Middle East that gave rise to WMD acquisition, focusing on interstate relations and dynamics is imperative.

Salvaging the 2012 Conference

Nabil Fahmy

In 1974 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. Since then, there have been no concrete steps toward that objective. The final document of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, with its commitments to a conference in 2012 on creating a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East, opened the possibility of changing the situation.

That momentum must be sustained. The conference should be convened and serve to launch the delicate and time-consuming process that will be necessary to create a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

The issue of the WMD-free zone has resurfaced in a number of ways since 1974. By the early 1980s, the 1974 resolution was being adopted annually by consensus at the United Nations. The establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East also was a paramount issue in the discussions and failures of the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) process emanating from the 1991 Madrid Conference on the Middle East. At the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, a resolution was adopted calling for practical steps toward the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The resolution was a fundamental component of the set of decisions taken that allowed the conference to extend the NPT indefinitely without a vote. Although the initial proposal related to nuclear weapons alone, Egypt in 1990 notably also had called for the establishment of a Middle Eastern zone free of chemical and biological as well as nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, none of these steps led to concrete progress. Israel’s unsafeguarded nuclear program continues unabated. Questions and accusations swirl about Iran’s nuclear motivation. Both programs will have to be included in the proposed Middle Eastern WMD-free zone if it is to have any relevance at all.

Egypt, Israel, and a number of Arab countries have refrained from ratifying the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). One can spend endless hours trying to analyze the lack of progress. Egypt and some other Arab countries are determined not to ratify any WMD conventions before Israel ratifies the NPT, and some believe that asymmetries in the balances of power and conflicting threat perceptions make such steps illogical. In essence, although it may seem to be a cliché, the absence of political will on the part of regional players or the nuclear-weapon states, each for their own reasons, has been the obstacle to progress. This also is the primary lesson drawn from the ACRS process.

As a point of departure, it is this author’s view that ensuring that the Middle East is free of all weapons of mass destruction should be the common objective. It is the only real, viable regional goal because it responds to asymmetries in military capabilities. That goal, however, should reach fruition through a series of measures that complement and parallel each other, but will not necessarily require establishing one umbrella for all these different weapons systems and their means of delivery. In other words, creating a nuclear-weapon-free zone commensurate with similar zones in other regions of the world is both a possible and an effective means to safeguard the region from these weapons. Dealing with chemical and biological weapons, given their nature, is probably more effective through existing international instruments such as the CWC and BWC although the latter may require additional verification measures at the regional level. The priority in this regard should be on nuclear weapons because of the devastating consequences of their use or proliferation.

In attempting to move forward on the establishment of a Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone and then to the issues of chemical and biological weapons, the first obstacle will be to convince Israel to start a serious domestic debate, and then discussions with its neighbors, on the utility and risks involved with its nuclear program and that of others. Traditional Israeli arguments that its opaque program is needed to counter massive conventional Arab forces no longer are valid given the development of Israel’s conventional weapons capacities. Furthermore, it has not proven a viable deterrent toward the Iraqi program in the last century or toward Iran more recently. The question that Israelis therefore should address is whether their program is an asset or a liability, fueling an arms race or at least impeding the possibility of progress at the regional level that would include intrusive regional verification procedures to curtail possible proliferators.

Once this national debate and regional discussion have occurred or in parallel with them, hopefully with the assistance of the United States and the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council, it is imperative to go through the analytical discussions and negotiations related to the details of the proposed zone. In doing so, the regional states and the stakeholders in each of the countries slowly will become more acclimated to the details of the zone and issues that are seldom discussed now. As is often the case in tedious labor negotiations, if one does not pass through the ebbs and flows of the negotiations, one may be unable to come to grips with solutions and compromises that in many respects are self-evident. The negotiating process itself should help create the environment for constructive consideration of the details of the proposals with an understanding of the perspectives of the other side. This process would cover significant fundamental issues such as the geographical scope of the zone, the list of prohibited activities, and the verification procedures and withdrawal clauses required to assure all the parties. These are the priority issues that Egypt believes need to be addressed. Much of this material has been addressed in other nuclear-weapon-free zones and is fundamentally of a technical nature, provided there is the requisite desire to establish such a zone under the right circumstances.

The one provision that is purely political in nature relates to the entry into force of the treaty. On this issue, there clearly is a wide range among positions in the region. States such as Egypt believe a zone can be established even now and that such a development would enhance security and limit the potential for damage if conflicts were to break out. Other Arab countries, although supportive of establishing a zone, are not ready to negotiate directly with Israel and prefer the creation of a zone through a multilateral, UN-based system. Israeli statements have argued that a zone can be established only after both peace and reconciliation occur among the Middle Eastern parties. Iran, while formally supportive of the creation of a zone, has been uncharacteristically silent during discussions of regional boundaries, that is, what countries constitute the Middle East, for purposes of the zone. The three depositaries of the NPT—Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which are the co-sponsors of the 1995 NPT resolution—have been inconsistent in their positions on the creation of a zone and have been lukewarm in their enthusiasm about taking concrete steps forward.

The 2010 NPT Review Conference was able to conclude successfully only because agreement ultimately was reached on the convening of a conference in 2012 to look at how to implement the 1995 NPT Middle East resolution. This achievement was possible only because of the Obama administration’s keen interest in emphasizing that its nuclear disarmament policies were different from the previous administration’s and this required a successful conclusion of the 2010 conference. Since then, however, little if anything has been done toward preparing for the 2012 Middle East conference.

As of this writing, the conference facilitator has not been appointed nor the venue for the event determined. This is quite astonishing and disturbing. A failure to hold the conference would diminish the credibility of the NPT as a whole. If the meeting takes place but the participants do not prepare properly, the gathering will turn into a rhetorical event with acerbic exchanges and heightened passions. Although assurances of success are impossible, best practices should have compelled the appointment of a facilitator early on, with a mandate to contact the parties on the substantive issues. This would have augured well for a serious discussion during the conference, which would be the beginning of a process of extended negotiations ultimately leading to the creation of a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

There remains little time before the projected date for the conference. Nevertheless, progress can be achieved if the conference focuses on concluding with three specific objectives:

• a clear-cut, unwavering, and unconditional reaffirmation by all participants of their support for the creation of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East;

• the adoption of a plan of action mapping out a negotiating process elaborating the substantive issues of geographical scope, scope of prohibition, verification system, and withdrawal, leaving the issue of entry into force as the last issue for discussion; and

• the adoption by the regional players of a series of interim measures toward the ultimate objective, for example, the prohibition of the production of weapons-grade material and possibly a timeline for the destruction of existing stockpiles of such material. This is of special relevance to Israel’s nuclear program because it is unsafeguarded and possibly Iran’s because of the repeated questions about that program. Unilateral adherence by the regional states to international agreements on the safety of nuclear materials also could be useful. All these measures would provide limited but significant reinforcement to the credibility of the commitment of the region’s states to pursue serious negotiations.

In recent months, the Arab Middle East has been witnessing significant new domestic trends that hopefully will evolve into more democratic systems of government responsive to the interests and priorities of its people. Like anywhere else in the world, change in the Middle East brings with it a level of uncertainty, and that will lead all states to revisit and review their security postures in light of new opportunities and challenges.

Some states may suggest that one should reduce ambitions for a 2012 conference or postpone it until these political changes in the region settle and can be evaluated. This is a disingenuous argument that is not worthy of serious consideration.

Although they occasionally have changed leaders, Arab Middle Eastern regimes have been essentially constant in their policies since the 1973 war. Why was this time not utilized? Furthermore, if practical steps had beeen taken toward the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, any risks emanating from Arab change actually would have been greatly reduced. The most important point, however, is frequently ignored: the most prominent and substantive nuclear programs in the Middle East do not exist in the Arab world but are in Israel in particular and also Iran. No changes are occurring in Israel although the protests taking place there as this article was being written might lead to some; if there are any in Iran, they are at a much slower pace than in the Arab world. The final point in this respect is that although the full face of change in the Arab world and in the Middle East remains undefined, it is consistently toward more open, democratic governance. The international community has been calling for this, partly from a human rights perspective but also because of the assumption that democratic regimes are more stable, more rational, and consequently better partners in the international community. Although Middle Eastern change is interesting and should be followed, it is not a reason to postpone serious measures toward creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and ensuring that the region is free of all weapons of mass destruction.



Nabil Fahmy is dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo and nonresident chair of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ Middle East Nonproliferation Project. From 1999 to 2008, he was the Egyptian ambassador to the United States.

Because it responds to asymmetries in regional capabilities, a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction is the only real, viable regional goal. Countries need to muster the political will to pursue that goal.

The Long Journey Toward A WMD-Free Middle East

Patricia Lewis and William C. Potter

One of the most sought-after prizes in international disarmament and nonproliferation diplomacy is a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In such a conflict-ridden area with a history of mistrust and animosity where chemical weapons were used in the past, the prospect of renewed WMD use is all too possible.[1] For these reasons, a WMD-free zone in the Middle East is not only an aspirational goal, but a matter of practical urgency.

The idea of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East is not a new one and, indeed, was proposed in April 1962 by a group of highly respected Israeli intellectuals, the Committee for the Denuclearization of the Middle East. In 1974, Egypt and Iran also embraced the concept as national policy and raised the issue in the UN General Assembly. Periodically since 1980, it has been possible to reach consensus on the resolution that international peace and security in the region would be enhanced greatly if all states in the Middle East agreed not to produce, test, acquire, or station nuclear weapons on their territories. Yet, notwithstanding the recurrent support for the measure at the General Assembly, until 1995, very little came to pass, ­leading many analysts and diplomats to question if all states in the region genuinely were interested in a zone free of nuclear weapons.

In 1990, at the initiative of Egypt, the concept of a Middle East zone was expanded to include all weapons of mass destruction. This more comprehensive approach, which was pursued in tandem with that of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, envisaged the possibility that a bargain could be struck in which Israel agreed to abandon, in a verifiable manner, its unacknowledged but widely assumed nuclear weapons capability while all states in the region agreed to give up or forgo any offensive chemical and biological weapons capabilities and join relevant global treaties and agreements such as the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention. Although this approach made sense theoretically, it thus far has failed to produce any tangible product. There had been some hope that the Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) talks[2] might lead to a negotiated zone of one form or another, but these talks collapsed in 1995, due in part to disagreements between Egypt and Israel over when and how to address the zone in the context of sequencing the steps in the wider peace process.

That year also marked the occasion of a month-long negotiation at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review and Extension Conference. A key component of a package that made possible the indefinite extension of the treaty was adoption of the Resolution on the Middle East, co-sponsored by Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This resolution was carefully crafted and called on all states in the Middle East to “take practical steps in appropriate forums aimed at making progress towards, inter alia, the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems, and to refrain from taking any measures that preclude the achievement of this objective.” The 1995 resolution also called on all NPT parties, and in particular the nuclear-weapon states, to “extend their cooperation and to exert their utmost efforts with a view to ensuring the early establishment by regional parties of a Middle East zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.” From this point on, for all practical purposes the concepts of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and a WMD-free zone in the region became conflated in NPT parlance.

Although it would have been impossible to have reached the decision to extend the NPT indefinitely without the 1995 resolution, no progress was made toward the implementation of the resolution until the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Indeed, Egypt’s frustration over the lack of headway in implementing the resolution and skepticism about the commitment to the resolution by its three nuclear-weapon-state sponsors contributed to the collapse of the 2005 NPT Review Conference. A desire to avoid repeating the experiences of 2005 was instrumental in inducing parties at the 2010 conference to forge consensus on several modest steps to begin the implementation of the 1995 resolution.

More specifically, the 2010 NPT Review Conference final document called on the UN secretary-general and the three co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution, in consultation with regional states, to convene a conference in 2012, to be attended by all states in the Middle East, “on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by the states of the region, and with the full support and engagement of the nuclear-weapon states.”

In addition, the UN secretary-general, along with the three co-sponsors and in consultation with the states of the region, is charged with appointing a facilitator who will “have a mandate to support implementation of the 1995 Resolution by conducting consultations and undertaking preparations for the convening of the 2012 conference.” The facilitator is tasked with assisting “in implementing follow-on steps agreed at the 2012 conference” and “to report to the NPT 2015 Review Conference and its Preparatory Committee meetings.” In addition, the final document says that a “host government for the 2012 conference will also be designated.”

As with all successful negotiations, the final document from the 2010 conference required compromises by all key parties, including Egypt, Iran, and the United States.[3] Not surprisingly, Israel, which was not directly involved in the negotiations as it is not an NPT member, took exception to what was said and not said in the document. In particular, it objected to being named explicitly (albeit in the same mild fashion that was adopted at the 2000 NPT Review Conference) when there was no mention of India and Pakistan, the two other countries that never have joined the NPT. It also strongly objected to the failure of the document to take note of, much less condemn, Iran’s noncompliance with its NPT obligations, a step that would have been opposed by Iran and thus might have blocked consensus on the final ­document.

At the time of this writing, 14 months have passed since the 2010 NPT Review Conference, and neither a facilitator nor a host government for the 2012 Middle East conference has been appointed. During the summer of 2011, however, the three co-sponsors of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East held a series of consultations with states from the region in their respective capitals, and the UN secretary-general and the co-sponsors also had consultations with states in New York. These recent developments have led some to anticipate that it may be possible to decide on a facilitator and host country before the end of the fall. Regrettably, background documentation for the conference has yet to begin, and at least one of the three sponsors of the 1995 Middle East resolution appears to have advised the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization not to proceed quickly in that direction. These delays are most unfortunate and do not augur well for the convening of a conference in 2012. They also tend to reinforce a form of “sophisticated cynicism” in which all efforts to roll back weapons programs are viewed as naive and hopeless. This outlook, in turn, leads to a sense of fatalism among many supporters of a zone. Such attitudes also have discouraged scholars from pursuing research on the issue and foundations from supporting serious efforts in pursuit of a zone.[4] Further complicating the process, at least in the short term, is the Arab Spring of 2011 and the accompanying political turmoil throughout the region, which clearly was not anticipated by the negotiators of the 2010 final document when they selected 2012 as the date for the conference.

The Larger Process

Nuclear-weapon-free zones predate the NPT and arguably represent one of the few disarmament and nonproliferation approaches that have shown considerable progress in recent years. The concept of such zones can be traced back to the mid-1950s, and its origin usually is associated with a Polish plan to make a portion of Central Europe nuclear-weapon free.[5] Although this regional initiative was never realized, in relatively short order a number of nuclear-weapon-free zones were negotiated. They included the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, and the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco among Latin American and Caribbean states—the first nuclear-­weapon-free zone that is a populated area. These zones, in turn, gave rise to those in the South Pacific (the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga), Africa (the 1996 Treaty of Pelindaba), Southeast Asia (the 1995 Bangkok Treaty), and Central Asia (the 2006 Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty).[6] In addition to these treaties that remain in force, an agreement on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was negotiated in 1992, but was ­subsequently ­abrogated.

The NPT also foresaw the possibility that more states might choose to pursue regional arrangements to supplement their more global treaty commitments, and Article VII affirms “the right of any group of States to conclude regional treaties in order to assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories.” Similarly, the 1995 NPT ­Review and Extension Conference Decision on Principles and Objectives for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament expressed the “conviction that the establishment of internationally recognized nuclear-weapon-free zones, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the States of the region concerned, enhances global and regional peace and security,” a view that was reiterated at the 2000 and 2010 review conferences.

Nuclear-weapon-free zones historically have been viewed as effective means to perform a variety of disarmament and nonproliferation tasks. These include enabling states in a region to take the initiative to exclude nuclear weapons from their territories, to establish greater transparency and verification measures, to prevent nuclear weapons tests from being conducted in a region, to foster confidence among the countries of a region that neighbors are not engaged in nuclear weapons activities, to build and maintain nonproliferation norms, and to promote broader regional cooperation, including but not limited to the area of peaceful use of nuclear energy.[7] Although treaties in a number of regions have been successful in accomplishing these objectives, their full potential has not always been realized due to a number of barriers within and external to the region.[8]

Perhaps the most pronounced internal barrier is the presence of ongoing hostility and conflict among states within the region. Some observers have maintained that nuclear-weapon-free zones cannot be established in regions such as the Middle East and South Asia, which are characterized by enduring and bitter rivalries, including those of a nuclear nature. A possible counterexample, however, is the successful conclusion of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which covers a region that at the time of negotiation was ridden with conflict and included nuclear archrivals Argentina and Brazil. Although the intensity of conflict was much lower in Latin America than in the Middle East and South Asia and did not involve religious issues, a process of democratization in which governments abandoned military dictatorships might have been necessary before Argentina and Brazil were able to perceive significant common interests in forgoing their military nuclear aspirations and redirecting their resources to emphasize economic development and greater engagement in the international marketplace. Indeed, during the negotiation of the Pelindaba Treaty, several of the participating African states were embroiled in full-scale hostilities, but that did not prevent the conclusion of the continental nuclear-weapon-free zone. Other internal barriers to the creation of these zones that have been noted by some analysts include domestic instability among key regional states, the possession of nuclear weapons on the part of states in the prospective zone, and the absence of regional forums at which to initiate discussions leading to more formal negotiations on a zone.

One also can point to a variety of external barriers. They include the policies of nuclear-weapon states, which may discourage them from concluding legally binding protocols to provide negative security assurances, that is, pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons, to some states in a region or to preclude the future possibility of deployment or transit of nuclear weapons in certain regions. In fact, although all five of the NPT-recognized nuclear-weapon states have formally endorsed the principle of nuclear-weapon-free zones, in practice, they rarely have found a zone that they like. As a result, even when they do not actively oppose the creation of a zone, they typically have been slow to conclude the relevant protocols.

Although not a barrier per se, the effectiveness of existing zones has been impeded at times by the tendency of some parties to zone treaties to act contrary to the treaty’s provisions. This phenomenon has been especially prevalent in recent years with respect to the issue of nuclear trade with countries lacking comprehensive safeguards or, in the case of the Central Asian treaty, the IAEA additional protocol.[9] Disregard for compliance with any provision of the treaty undermines the legitimacy of all provisions of the treaty.

Lessons From Existing Zones[10]

Although nuclear-weapon-free zones share some basic characteristics[11], each zone typically has a number of distinctive features. These features reflect circumstances and concerns specific to the region, as well as the time period during which the treaties were negotiated. The Tlatelolco treaty, for example, reflects a permissive attitude toward “peaceful nuclear explosives”; the Rarotonga treaty precludes nuclear testing and the dumping of radioactive waste at sea; the Korean denuclearization agreement includes the prohibition of uranium enrichment and plutonium separation; the Pelindaba treaty introduces the concept of a ban on attacks against nuclear installations, which already exists in a 1988 bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan; and the Central Asian treaty emphasizes the need for environmental remediation related to prior nuclear activities on the territory of member states and requires members to adhere to an additional protocol.[12] This evolutionary process, in which new zones typically add to and often improve on prior zones, suggests that notwithstanding major internal and external barriers, it may be possible to negotiate additional zones. Possible lessons to be derived from the experience of prior zones include:

Promote Greater Cooperation and Information Sharing. Members of nuclear-weapon-free zones would benefit if there were more regular interaction among zones, including the exchange of information and coordination regarding issues of mutual interest (e.g., verification and compliance, disaster preparedness, peaceful nuclear use, and the promotion of nuclear disarmament measures in international forums such as the NPT review process and the First Committee of the UN General Assembly). A step in this direction was the convening of the Second Conference of States Parties and Signatories to Treaties That Establish Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and Mongolia at the United Nations immediately preceding the 2010 NPT Review Conference.

Si Vis Pacem, Para Pacem (If you want peace, prepare for peace). Most prior nuclear-weapon-free zones were regarded as quixotic at one time or another and were opposed by key states in the region or by one or more nuclear-weapon states. States in a region that are interested in the creation of a zone should persevere and take preliminary steps in what may be thought of as the prenegotiation phase of the development of a zone to begin to address many of the problems that will need to be solved if and when the political climate permits the initiation of actual negotiations.[13]

Utilize Regional Organizations If Present. Prior to the start of formal negotiations, one should exploit the presence of existing regional organizations as a forum for discussions of the scope and content of a zone. In the absence of an existing regional forum, a group of interested states in the region or conceivably an expert group convened under the auspices of the United Nations may be able to begin a dialogue to advance the deliberative process. The UN Department of Disarmament Affairs, with technical support from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and financial assistance from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for example, convened a multiyear group of experts from Central Asia to facilitate the negotiation of the Central Asian treaty.

Treat Domestic and International Political Change as Opportunities. Major internal and external political changes often provide catalysts or triggers that can be used to promote policy innovation, including the pursuit of nuclear-weapon-free zones. This phenomenon was present in Argentina and Brazil with the demise of military governments and a reorientation to internationalizing the countries’ economies beginning in 1967 and can be associated with the increased international opposition to French nuclear testing in the Pacific in the 1980s and the demise of apartheid in South Africa in the early 1990s. In principle, the tumultuous events in the Middle East in 2011 may also provide opportunities for new thinking about regional cooperation, although the uncertainty they generate also may reinforce caution on the part of some states.

Do Not Wait for Holdout States. As Michael Hamel-Green urges, “[T]he existence of holdout states within a region should not delay efforts by other regional states to pursue discussions and dialogue on [nuclear-weapon-free zone] and [WMD-free zone] concepts in regional, international and other forums.”[14] The Tlatelolco treaty is a particularly good case in point and was constructed in a creative fashion that enabled the treaty to enter into force for many countries in Latin America, even as others delayed for many years.

Promote Greater Engagement by Civil Society. To date, civil society has been much less effective in instigating headway on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation issues than in the sphere of conventional arms such as landmines, small arms and light weapons, and cluster munitions. In principle, however, this need not remain the case, and there is an important role for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to play in conducting research and providing innovative but practical policy recommendations to national governments in the sphere of nuclear-weapon-free zones.

Moving Forward

Probably the most significant driver for the WMD-free zone in the Middle East is the growing awareness that a conflict in the region could involve the use of nuclear weapons. Although not a new consideration, it has gained increased currency due to nuclear brinkmanship by Iran, the perception that Israel’s powerful allies accept its nuclear weapons as a permanent feature of the Middle Eastern terrain, increased interest in and access to civil nuclear technology by other states in the region, and occasional, veiled threats by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states that should Iran develop nuclear weapons, it would not long remain the only nuclear weapons newcomer to the region. These developments may not in themselves represent the preconditions for negotiation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone, but they should prompt a radical rethinking of nuclear policy in the Middle East.

Although the potential for a deal on weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East certainly exists, it is unclear what form that deal could take. Although more relevant research on the topic has been done than is generally realized, it remains the case that this information is not widely known, and more serious work is required. In particular, there is a need for studies that take account of the experience of other regional arms control processes such as the extant nuclear-weapon-free zones and the Helsinki Process, which attempted to improve relations during the Cold War between the East and West. More research also is needed regarding the specific characteristics of the Middle East, including recent developments, for the purpose of delineating the content and possible scope of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and the modalities for deliberations on these in advance of formal negotiations. It is likely that a future zone will need to include many of the following elements:

• prohibitions consistent with the NPT, such as Articles II and III, which prescribe obligations to be undertaken by nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear-weapon states with respect to the transfer of nuclear weapons and fissionable material and the acceptance of IAEA safeguards.

• prohibition of the stationing of any nuclear explosive device on the territory of the parties to the treaty.

• prohibition of nuclear explosive testing in the territories of the parties and of participation in such tests by any state anywhere.

• prohibition of the dumping of radioactive waste in the territorial sea, land, rivers, or inland waters covered by the zone.

• declaration of any existing nuclear weapons capabilities, be they intact weapons or their component parts, prior to the entry into force of the treaty.

• dismantlement and destruction of existing nuclear weapons capabilities, facilities, and devices under international verification mechanisms.

• prohibition of armed attack on civil nuclear facilities in the Middle East.

• declaration of all nuclear facilities and their placement under IAEA safeguards.

• conclusion by parties of a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA, as well as an additional protocol.

• regional means of verification and monitoring compliance.

Confidence in the ability to verify the provisions of the zone will be a major requirement for its successful negotiation and implementation. Verification and compliance measures could be carried out by a new standing institution, by existing international verification instruments with added reporting requirements, or by a combination of the two approaches. Yet, the most unique and contentious aspect of a nuclear-weapon-free zone for the Middle East is that of declaring past and present nuclear weapons capabilities and then ­dismantling them.

Transparency in military nuclear capabilities is conspicuous by its absence in the region. There never has been a formal clarification of Israel’s nuclear status[15]; Iran and Syria have been found in noncompliance with their safeguards obligations at the IAEA, and the issue of their undeclared nuclear activities has been referred to the UN Security Council. If states do begin to negotiate a nuclear-weapon-free zone, at the very least there has to be a mechanism for enhancing transparency. One approach would be a declaration of intent to declare past programs. Such a declaration would be timed to immediately precede entry into force. Borrowing from the South African experience, prior to entry into force one might arrange for the dismantlement of military capabilities under the supervision of a team of international inspectors.

The Role of the Conference

As of mid-2011, it is impossible to anticipate with any confidence if or when the NPT-mandated conference on the Middle East will be convened or what it realistically could be expected to accomplish if it actually took place. That being said, one can anticipate a number of developments.

1. Regardless of when or where the conference is held, a great deal of work will need to be done in advance of the meeting if it is to yield any substantively meaningful deliberations and kick off a follow-on process. A necessary first step is to appoint a facilitator, who must have the time and the authority to undertake consultations in preparation for the conference on issues such as working methods for the conference, decision-making procedures, the agenda, participants, and substance. It is of the utmost importance to agree on and name the facilitator as soon as possible so that the groundwork can be laid.

2. Whenever the conference is held, there will be a need for background documentation, and it is desirable for international organizations to begin now to prepare such material. Experts at international organizations, in NGOs, and in academia also can play a useful role in identifying means to overcome differences among the prospective members of the zone, as well as charting alternative proposals for elements of the zone, including its scope and verification measures, the basic obligations of member states, and the sequence by which commitments would be fulfilled.

3. Ultimately, it may prove infeasible to convene the conference before the end of 2012. If a facilitator is appointed and that individual’s consultations make clear that there is a desire among the preponderance of relevant parties to postpone the conference, it could be rescheduled for 2013. However, any such decision would have to be communicated very carefully. The arguments for delay need to be weighed judiciously against the costs of postponement, which include potential damage to the NPT review process, especially in light of the critical role played by the Middle East recommendations in the negotiation of a successful outcome of the 2010 review conference. A number of delegations sought stronger disarmament provisions in the final document, but accepted the negotiated action plan in deference to Egypt (the chair of the Nonaligned Movement). Postponement of the conference is apt to be interpreted by some of these states as evidence of bad faith by Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States and may well lead to the unraveling of the document, in particular those provisions related to nuclear disarmament.

Many arguments have been advanced in support of a postponement of the 2012 conference. Some of them are serious, most are self-serving, and many are simply repackaged objections from the past that seek to take account of the rapidly changing dynamics in the region. They have in common a fear of the unknown, a skepticism that things can change for the better peacefully, and a view that it is naive to negotiate meaningful disarmament and nonproliferation measures in a region where conflict has long been the norm. These naysayers may prove to be correct, but it is certain that the Middle East will not be free of weapons of mass destruction until a serious and concerted effort is begun. Small, halting steps forward were taken in 2010 in the form of consensus recommendations to convene a conference in 2012. Failure to honor that mandate would squander an ­opportunity that may not reappear.

Patricia Lewis is deputy director of and a scientist-in-residence at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. William C. Potter is the Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute and director of the CNS.


1. Chemical weapons were used in the 1980s by Iraq in the Anfal campaign against the Kurds and in the Iran-Iraq War.

2. See, for example, Alison Kelly, “NPT: Back on Track,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2010; William Potter et al., “The 2010 NPT Review Conference: Deconstructing Consensus,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), June 17, 2010, http://cns.miis.edu/­stories/pdfs/100617_npt_2010_summary.pdf.

3. The Arms Control and Regional Security (ACRS) effort was one of five region-wide ­working groups associated with the Madrid peace process that was active from 1992 to 1995. For a discussion of ACRS, see, for example, Emily B. Landau, “ACRS: What Worked, What Didn’t, and What Could Be Relevant for the Region Today,” Disarmament Forum, No. 2 (2008), pp. 1–20; Peter Jones, “Arms Control in the Middle East: Some Reflections on ACRS,” Security Dialogue, Vol. 28, No. 1 (1997).

4. This situation bears some resemblance to the state of affairs in the late 1980s and early 1990s with regard to the pursuit of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

5. The so-called Rapacki Plan, named after Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rapacki, came on the heels of a Soviet proposal at the United Nations in 1956 to limit nuclear arms on a regional basis. For a discussion of the evolution of the zone concept, see Jan Prawitz and James Leonard, A Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East (Geneva: UNIDIR, 1996), pp. 1–6. This publication remains a very valuable resource for current discussions of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and contains many of the ideas that have been rediscovered by more recent studies.

6. The dates in parentheses refer to the signing of the treaties, not their entry into force. For a synopsis of the current status of nuclear-weapon-free zones, see Arms Control Association, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ) at a Glance,” www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/nwfz. For a more extended analysis, see CNS, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (NWFZ) Clearinghouse,” http://cns.miis.edu/nwfz_clearinghouse.

7. Scott Parrish and Jean du Preez, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones: Still a Useful Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Tool?” Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, 2006.

8. For an extended discussion of these barriers, see Michael Hamel-Green, Regional Initiatives on Nuclear- and WMD-Free Zones: Cooperative Approaches to Arms Control and Non-proliferation (Geneva: UNIDIR, 2005), pp. 25–27.

9. The Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty is unambiguous about precluding nuclear trade with countries that do not have an additional protocol in place, but this provision appears to have been ignored when it comes to nuclear trade negotiations with India.

10. See Hamel-Green, Regional Initiatives on Nuclear- and WMD-Free Zones, pp. 27–32; CNS, “Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone (NWFZ) Clearinghouse,” sec. 10.

11. The common characteristics of nuclear-weapon-free zones are identified in a 1999 UN Disarmament Commission report, which also specifies guidelines for their creation. See UN General Assembly, “Report of the Disarmament Commission,” A/54/42, 1999, annex 1 (“Establishment of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones on the Basis of Arrangements Freely Arrived at Among the States of the Region Concerned”), www.un.org/disarmament/HomePage/DisarmamentCommission/UNDiscom.shtml.

12. A number of these features are noted in the discussion by Prawitz and Leonard of the evolving nature of nuclear-weapon-free zones. Prawitz and Leonard, A Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East, pp. 30–31.

13. Ibid., pp. 76–78.

14. Hamel-Green, Regional Initiatives on Nuclear- and WMD-Free Zones, p. 35.

15. Avner Cohen, The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain With the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

Last year, countries made notable, though tentative, progress toward restarting the effort to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction. If they prove unable to convene their promised conference, they will have squandered an opportunity that may not reappear.

Run-Up to Mideast Meeting Shows Fissures

Daniel Horner

Efforts to decide on the facilitator and host country for a planned 2012 conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East are hampered by disagreements not only over the individual person and country for those roles, but also over fundamental points of the process for making the choices, interviews with participants in the ­process indicate.

Nevertheless, some of the interviewees, who represent key countries in the talks, said it still was possible that the decisions could be made before the end of the year and that the conference could take place as scheduled in 2012.

The commitment to hold the 2012 conference was a critical piece of the negotiations that produced the final document of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. (See ACT, June 2010.) In that document, the parties reaffirmed their commitment to “a full implementation” of the resolution on a WMD-free zone in the Middle East that, in turn, was central to the agreement at the 1995 review conference to make the NPT permanent.

Several states in the Middle East have declined to join the NPT, the Biological Weapons Convention, or the Chemical Weapons Convention or are believed to have weapons of mass destruction or be pursuing WMD capabilities.

There has been little visible progress on the 2012 meeting since the May 2010 NPT conference. Many participants in the process had hoped that a July 6–7 seminar in Brussels, attended by government officials and representatives of nongovernmental organizations, would spur action toward a decision on the host and facilitator. Although the seminar did conclude with an announcement of three candidate countries to host the 2012 conference, some of the current and former officials interviewed—many of whom attended the closed-door seminar—said they had hoped for more.

According to the officials, Russian diplomat Mikhail Ulyanov announced that the three candidates were Canada, Finland, and the Netherlands. Ulyanov was speaking on behalf of his country, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the three countries that co-sponsored the 1995 resolution and that, along with the UN secretary-general, are the designated conveners of the 2012 conference.

In an Aug. 5 interview, a U.S. Department of State official said the announcement had not been planned before the meeting, but that the three countries had decided to make one to counter a widespread impression that they were not working vigorously to make the 2012 conference happen. The official also said that “just because it’s not in public doesn’t mean a lot hasn’t been going on.”

However, a European diplomat said in an Aug. 18 interview that Ulyanov’s announcement “made everything worse” because it showed how little had been accomplished in the year since the NPT review conference.

Several of the officials questioned the viability of two of the candidates. In an Aug. 19 interview, Egyptian Ambassador to the United Nations Maged Abdelaziz, who attended the Brussels meeting, said the United States had proposed Canada as a host during the 2010 NPT conference, but Arab countries did not support that choice. He said the Arab countries also had reservations about the Netherlands, in part because it is a member of NATO (as is Canada) and in part because of its views and the views of the proposed Dutch facilitator on the Middle East and on the proposed conference. Abdelaziz indicated that Finland was more acceptable although he said the proposed Finnish facilitator did not have the political rank that the position would require.

He also said Austria, which at one point was under consideration, would be ­acceptable to the Arab Group.

The European diplomat offered a similar assessment of the prospects for Canada, Finland, and the Netherlands.

An official from a Persian Gulf state also said there has been “no objection so far to Finland’s offer” and that Canada does not have “strong credibility on this issue” because of its ongoing position on Israel’s nuclear program in UN forums. However, in an Aug. 17 interview, he argued that the venue is less important than the facilitator.  According to the State Department official, the three co-sponsors believe that the facilitator should come from the host country because the facilitator would have the “diplomatic resources [of the host country] to tap into.”

Referring to the decisions on the host and facilitator, the Gulf state official said, “I don’t think there is a condition that they should be linked.” As he and Abdelaziz noted, the 2010 NPT Review Conference final document lists the decisions as two separate steps. There is “nothing in the review document that says this is a package,” Abdelaziz said.

“We want a shift of direction,” with priority placed on the naming of a facilitator, he said. The facilitator must meet certain criteria established by the Arab Group and conveyed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the co-sponsors, he said. The person must not be from one of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), an Arab country, Iran, or Israel; must be at least at a “ministerial level”; and must be acceptable to everyone, particularly Iran and Israel, he said.

NPT Issues

Some of the officials stressed the importance for the NPT regime of progress on the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. Because of the lack of progress since 1995 on the issue, the countries of the region felt “betrayed,” the Gulf state official said. For that reason, he said, some countries from the region and the Nonaligned Movement did not want to tighten the terms for withdrawal from the NPT, a topic that was discussed at some length at the 2010 review conference.

The next review conference is to take place in 2015, with three annual preparatory meetings, starting next May.

The European diplomat said it would be a problem “for formal reasons” if the process still was seen as stalled at the time of the 2012 preparatory meeting. Otherwise, the meeting will be ­“hijacked,” he said.

If the host and facilitator are named in September or October, the conference conceivably could be held in March or April; but that is “rather unlikely,” he said. However, he said, if the arrangements for the Mideast conference were put in place before the May NPT preparatory meeting, it “would not be easy to complain.” In comments similar to those of several other participants and observers, he said, “The Arab Spring does not help speed the process.”

The Gulf state official laid out a similar timetable, saying he “can’t imagine” the conference taking place before May or June. If there is no agreement roughly by November on the host and facilitator, then that timetable probably would be impossible, he said. Asked if holding the conference in 2012 was feasible, he said that although “many things [are] happening,” the “objective [of holding the conference next year] should not be undermined.”

The conference should take place in 2012, but participants “should be realistic” about what to expect, the Gulf state official said. The 2012 meeting should not “be the end” of the effort, he said.

Overall, failing to convene the conference is “more risky than having it” because abandoning plans to hold it “would kill prospects for [the Middle Eastern WMD-free zone] from the beginning,” with potentially severe implications for the NPT regime, he said.

The link to the NPT raises a different set of issues for Israel, which is not a party to the NPT and was not directly involved in the negotiations leading to the 1995 and 2010 NPT conference final documents. Nevertheless, in an Aug. 18 interview, a former Israeli official said he would not “reject…out of hand” the idea that it would be beneficial for Israel to attend the conference.

However, the former official said, the terms of reference would have to be “drafted in the spirit and letter” of the statements by President Barack Obama and national security adviser Gen. James Jones immediately after the NPT review conference. Otherwise, it will be difficult for Israel, which is “suspicious to begin with, to consider attending the [2012] conference,” the former official said.

In his May 28, 2010, statement on the NPT review conference and the WMD-free zone, Obama said, “The United States has long supported such a zone, although our view is that a comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations are essential precursors for its establishment.” Jones, in his statement the same day, provided some additional detail on the zone and the conference, saying in part that “[t]he United States will insist that this be a conference for discussion aimed at an exchange of views on a broad agenda, to include regional security issues, verification and compliance, and all categories of weapons of mass destruction and systems for their delivery.”

The 2010 NPT conference final document specifies that the 2012 conference “shall take as its terms of reference the 1995 Resolution [on the Middle East].”

U.S. Attitude

In some statements this year, U.S. officials have suggested that the Arab Spring could push the meeting beyond 2012. In an April 7 interview with Arms Control Today, White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Gary Samore said that since the 2010 NPT conference, “there have been some extraordinarily dramatic changes in the region; and whether or not we can still make that 2012 meeting is, I think, much less clear. We have to continue to make an effort.” Samore was scheduled to address the Brussels meeting but canceled, citing a last-minute scheduling conflict.

The former Israeli official said his impression is that the White House “has other issues to deal with” and sees this one as “a pain in the neck.” If the United States had felt “a stronger interest or concern,” it would have pushed “in a more persuasive manner” for an agreement on the host and facilitator, he said. The European diplomat said the United States and the other co-sponsors could have been much more active than they were at the Brussels seminar.

In the Aug. 5 interview, the State Department official disputed the idea that his government was not committed to the meeting or the 2012 timetable. “We think this can happen and should happen in 2012…. [E]verything we are doing is based on the assumption” that it will take place on that schedule, he said. If the countries of the region wanted to push back the meeting date, the United States would not stand in their way, but the date “won’t slip to 2013 based on anything we’re doing or not doing,” he said.

He said he expected an announcement of the host and facilitator in “the next month or two.”

Abdelaziz said in the Aug. 19 interview that “things [were] starting to move more” after the Brussels meeting. Egypt and other Arab League countries have met since then with Ban, who remains in close consultation with the co-sponsors, he said.

The Arab countries are “working hard to have this conference,” he said. They do not “want to corner anybody substantively or procedurally,” but “we don’t want to be cornered,” he said.

The countries preparing for a planned 2012 conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East are facing disagreements on several key points.

Israel Passes Landmine Removal Bill

Farrah Zughni

The Israeli Knesset last month approved a bill paving the way for the removal of “non-operational” anti-personnel landmines in Israel through the establishment of a national mine action authority.

The March 14 vote was 43 to 0.

The Minefield Clearance Act, which marks Israel’s first effort to address landmine contamination at the national level, limits demining to areas deemed “not essential to national security” by the authority. The exact number of deployed landmines is not known, but at least 33 square kilometers are believed to be affected, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, a nonprofit publication considered the authoritative source on landmines, cluster munitions, and other explosive remnants of war.

The legislation makes no mention of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, the most comprehensive international agreement pertaining to landmines. Israel is not a party to that pact. Unlike the Mine Ban Treaty, the act does not address the manufacture, trade, stockpiling, or future deployment of landmines.

Israel is party to another key international agreement—the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and its amended Protocol II, which regulates but does not prohibit landmine use. Israel declared a moratorium on the sale, transfer, and export of all anti-personnel mines in 1994 and has renewed the moratorium every three years since then. The size of the country’s landmine stockpile is not known.

The act’s passage took place one year after a mine detonation in the Golan Heights resulted in injuries to two Israeli children. One of them, Daniel Yuval, who was 11 years old at the time, underwent a leg amputation as a result. Yuval’s story and subsequent campaign efforts made headlines across Israel and beyond and are widely credited for the legislation’s ultimate success.


The Israeli Knesset last month approved a bill paving the way for the removal of “non-operational” anti-personnel landmines in Israel through the establishment of a national mine action authority.

Unrest Complicates 2012 Middle East Meeting

Anne Penketh

The upheavals sweeping across the Middle East have cast a long shadow over diplomatic negotiations aimed at organizing a conference on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in that region, according to officials involved in the process.

“We are absolutely committed” to the conference, said President Barack Obama’s WMD coordinator, Gary Samore, in a Feb. 16 telephone interview. “But there’s a lot of uncertainty because of the unrest in the Middle East.” In other interviews in recent weeks, officials from other countries also voiced some concern about the possible impact of the turmoil that has engulfed several of the core states that would be expected to attend the conference. The forum, to be attended by “all states” of the region, is supposed to be convened next year under a consensus decision by the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. (See ACT, June 2010).

The Egyptian revolution that exploded in January came at a critical phase in the preparations for holding the unprecedented regional conference, which would be notable for bringing Israel and Iran to the table for discussions on security and disarmament issues. Israel is the region’s sole presumed nuclear-weapon state, but remains outside the NPT, while Iran’s uranium-enrichment program, which continues in defiance of the UN Security Council, has raised suspicions about Iranian intentions. “To guarantee success, Israelis and Iranians must be there,” said Mohamed Shaker, the president of the 1985 NPT Review Conference in a Jan. 31 interview in Cairo.

Until now, there has been no obvious progress toward convening the 2012 forum. No facilitator has been appointed, and there is no agreement on which states should attend or on a date and venue for the conference, let alone on the agenda. Yet, diplomats and officials taking the lead in the organizational process—from Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general’s office—remain committed to implementing the review conference decision on holding the 2012 conference. They say consultations are now under way in earnest. An EU seminar is scheduled to be held this summer as part of the preparations for the conference mandated by the 189 states-parties at the review conference, according to EU diplomats.

Samore said the co-sponsors hope to reach agreement “before the summer” with the regional players on a host government for the event and on a facilitator, who may come from the same country.

But he cautioned that there is no guarantee that the conference will be held. “We have to try to make it happen,” he said. Referring to the Middle East turmoil, he added, “We don’t know what effect it will have on foreign policy, and governments may be distracted.”

Signs of Impatience

In the region, there are signs of impatience with the conveners. Arab diplomats said they had hoped that the Arab League summit in Baghdad at the end of March would be able to endorse the choice of facilitator, with a view to holding the conference itself before May 2012. “This is a major concern for us, that nothing has moved. There’s no facilitator and no site for the conference,” said Maged Abdelaziz, Egypt’s UN ambassador, who led the diplomatic push on the WMD-free zone at the NPT review conference last May. Establishing such a zone has been a primary goal of Egyptian diplomacy for decades. At the 1995 NPT review conference, the Arab Group successfully pushed for the adoption of a resolution on establishing a WMD-free zone in return for agreeing to the indefinite extension of the NPT.

Shaker, who is now the chairman of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, said it would be a shame if the Nile revolution affected the 2012 process. “Even with Egypt in chaos, we cannot lose sight of this issue which is so important for peace in the Middle East,” he said, speaking in his office on the seventh day of the 18-day Egyptian uprising.

There has been uncertainty about the Israeli government’s intentions regarding the 2012 conference. In the past, Israel has joined the other states in the UN General Assembly in officially endorsing the concept of a WMD-free zone as an ultimate goal. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily reacted to the review conference final document, which reaffirmed the importance of Israel joining the NPT and placing “all its nuclear facilities” under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Netanyahu warned that Israel would not attend. The Israeli government statement responding to the conference outcome said, “The real problem with WMDs in the Middle East does not relate to Israel but to those countries that have signed the NPT and brazenly violated it: Iraq under Saddam, Libya, Syria and Iran.”

Since then, Israel has begun to show signs of a greater willingness to engage, although officials still refrain from expressing open support for the conference. Israeli and U.S. officials also have made it clear that Israel cannot be expected to attend if the forum is used as an opportunity for “Israel bashing” by the Arab states and Iran.

Israel is examining [the conference]; we’re talking to the Americans,” Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said in a Feb. 8 interview on the sidelines of the annual Herzliya security conference near Tel Aviv. Meridor is the minister for intelligence and atomic energy in the Israeli cabinet. He also conducted a two-year strategic study on Israel’s policy of nuclear opacity, a policy that Israeli officials continue to believe has served the country well. Under a 1969 agreement between Prime Minister Golda Meir and U.S. President Richard Nixon, Israel has pursued a nuclear “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that continues with U.S. support to this day. Meanwhile, public discussion of Israel’s presumed nuclear weapons arsenal remains generally taboo. An off-the-record workshop at the Herzliya conference, entitled “Going to Zero? Global and Regional Nuclear and WMD Disarmament Initiatives,” paid only scant attention to the 2012 conference.

Inside and outside government circles in Israel, there is a range of opinion about the conference from conditional support to downright skepticism. One source said that “the only people interested in this are the Washington think tanks.”

Expressing a view held by some Israeli analysts, Emily Landau, senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said she would support a conference agenda reviving regional security talks such as those put in place by the 1991 Madrid conference, known as ACRS (arms control and regional security). From 1992 until its collapse in 1996, the multilateral working group, which included 14 Middle Eastern parties, focused on confidence-building measures and regional security issues. But Landau stressed that the 2012 conference “can only work with strong U.S. leadership.”

The final document from last year’s NPT review conference endorsed a series of “practical steps,” providing for the 2012 conference “on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.” It called on the UN secretary-general and the United States, United Kingdom, and Russia—the co-sponsor states of the 1995 resolution—to consult with the region on specific preparatory steps.

However, the language of the review conference document was sufficiently ambiguous to allow for different interpretations, or “misinterpretations,” as one diplomat put it. There seems to be general agreement that 2012 would not be a “negotiating” conference but a forum for “discussions” and that criteria for the facilitator as established subsequently by the Arab Group should be respected. The facilitator should have a profile of former foreign minister or more senior status to give him or her diplomatic clout, must be acceptable to Israel and Iran, and be neutral. He or she should not be from an Arab state or Israel, nor from one of the five countries—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—recognized by the NPT as nuclear-weapon states.

Differing Visions

But there remains a fundamental gap between the Arab Group’s vision, which sees the conference as an opportunity to pressure Israel to give up its undeclared nuclear arsenal, and that of the United States and other co-sponsors, which want to isolate Iran and will insist on full NPT compliance. For the Arab states, the conference would finally address their long-standing grievance about what they call the double standards of the United States, which shields Israel.

Samore predicted “one battle after another,” beginning with the discussions on a facilitator and host government and continuing with the agenda, as the conveners pursue their consultations. The agenda is expected to address regional adherence to treaties including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), as well as delivery systems.

“We see it as a give-and-take process,” said Abdelaziz. “At the same time that Israel will join the NPT, we will join the BWC and CWC,” he said. “It’s a parallel process requiring progress on all three fronts.” Neither Egypt—the first Middle Eastern country to acquire chemical weapons—nor Syria has signed or ratified the CWC. Both countries have signed but not ratified the BWC.

Obama defined his agenda priorities last July at a White House meeting with Netanyahu. “The United States will insist that such a conference will be for discussion aimed at an exchange of views on a broad agenda, to include regional security issues, verification and compliance, and all categories of weapons of mass destruction and systems for their delivery,” said a White House summary of their meeting.

Behind the discussions on convening the conference lie the politics driving Middle East hegemony and regional rivalries, which lay behind the collapse of ACRS in 1996 and will be the key factors when states consider their role in the 2012 conference. Will the next Egyptian government continue to champion the WMD-free zone? Will Iran, which was the first to call for a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East in 1974, continue to see an interest in attending in the light of its own progress in uranium enrichment, which it insists is for peaceful purposes? Will Israel see the benefits of a security dialogue with its hostile neighbors or throw up roadblocks by citing concerns about conventional weapons and the peace process?

“It’s a good opportunity for Israel to start getting rid of its nuclear weapons, and for Iran not to get nuclear weapons, and for the Arabs to join the chemical and biological conventions,” Abdelaziz said.

Arab diplomats warn that, in the case of failure, prospects for the next NPT review conference, in 2015—and indeed for the treaty’s future in general—would be bleak.

Anne Penketh is Washington program director of the British American Security Information Council. She recently returned from a two-week trip to the Middle East where she discussed prospects for the 2012 conference with officials and nongovernmental representatives.


The recent uprisings in the Middle East have clouded the picture for a planned 2012 conference on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, officials from key countries said.

U.S. Consulting on Middle East Meeting

Alfred Nurja

U.S. consultations with Russia, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and other key parties to identify a facilitator and a host country for the planned 2012 conference on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East are under way, a Department of State official said in a Nov. 17 interview.

“Since the facilitator must have the trust of all the countries in the region, including Israel, and the international clout to bring all parties together, the selection is an important issue that is being carefully considered,” he said. “There is no timeline at this point,” he added.

The 2012 conference was one of the key steps endorsed by the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in May. (See ACT, June 2010.) It marked the first time that NPT parties had been able to adopt concrete measures on implementing a 1995 resolution on the subject.

Another U.S. official, Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation Susan Burk, said the 2012 conference “must draw the mandate from the region and operate by consensus of all countries concerned.” Burk, the Obama administration’s lead official at the NPT review conference, made the comments on the sidelines of a Nov. 18 forum in Washington.

In a Nov. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Sameh Aboul-Enein, Egypt’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, said that “Egypt intends to engage constructively with all concerned parties to implement the practical steps adopted.” Aboul-Enein, who was part of the Egyptian delegation at the review conference, added that “the road ahead is not easy but it’s the only way forward.”

Burk and Aboul-Enein attended an Oct. 25 conference organized by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies on the Middle East WMD-free zone.

It remains unclear what the agenda items of the proposed 2012 conference will be, but according to a U.S. statement at the UN General Assembly First Committee in October, “[H]olding this conference will also require agreement to discuss a broad agenda, to include regional security issues, verification and compliance, and all categories of weapons of mass destruction.” The United States already has begun to work with others to advance this agenda, the statement added.

The statement came after the United States voted against an Arab League draft resolution on “The Risk of Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East,” which focused on Israel.

Israel, which has said that it supports the long-term vision of a WMD-free zone in the region, has conditioned forward movement on that objective with the existence of durable peace in the region and other states’ compliance with arms control and nonproliferation obligations. “[T]he basic prerequisites for reaching that vision do not exist,” Eyal Propper, director of the Arms Control Department at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the First Committee this October.

The 2012 “conference cannot be an event used to ramp up pressure on Israel,” the State Department official said.




IAEA Vote to Press Israel Falls Short

Alfred Nurja and Peter Crail

The members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Sept. 24 narrowly voted down a resolution expressing concern over Israeli nuclear capabilities and calling on the country to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The resolution, which was offered by the Arab Group, came to the floor on the last day of the week-long meeting of the IAEA General Conference in Vienna. The 51-46 vote against the resolution, with 54 abstentions or absences, marks a shift from last year, when a similar resolution passed by a vote of 49-46.

For nearly 20 years, Arab states have sponsored resolutions targeting Israel’s nuclear policy and calling on it to join the NPT. Last year’s vote was the first to succeed. The votes split primarily between Western countries and members of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), a bloc representing 118 developing nations.

The General Conference is the agency’s highest decision-making body, comprising all 151 IAEA members.

The United States lobbied extensively against the motion, saying that it risked undermining ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as well as prospects for a 2012 conference on the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. In a statement welcoming the outcome of the vote, Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said that “rejection of the resolution has not created winners and losers, but instead preserved the opportunity for progress” on those two objectives.

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference in May, the parties to the treaty endorsed steps toward establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, including convening a conference of states in the region in 2012. Those steps are intended to advance a 1995 resolution calling for a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. That resolution was key to securing Arab consensus on extending the NPT indefinitely.

Prior to the vote, the United States sought to persuade sponsors of the resolution to withdraw it for consideration this year and agree to a one-year moratorium on the issue. “Regrettably, there was no positive response to this proposal,” Davies told the conference.

The U.S. position was echoed by the European Union. In a letter sent to IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said that the resolution’s “non-consensual approach” would not help the 2012 agenda.

Speaking at a press conference in New York Sept. 24, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said he regretted the outcome of the vote and warned of a regional arms race if Israel maintained nuclear weapons. “It is inconceivable that only one country [in the region] will have nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that “the Middle East should be free of all weapons of mass destruction.”

In a statement to the IAEA conference before the vote, Israel Atomic Energy Commission Director-General Shaul Chorev accused the resolution’s sponsors of seeking to divert attention from Iran and Syria, “the real cases of dangerous proliferation and non-compliance” in the Middle East. An approach that singles out Israel “defeats the prospects for the advancement of arms control measures in the Middle East region,” he said.

Israel, which is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, has tied any decision to sign the NPT to progress on a comprehensive peace agreement in the region. Arab countries say that Israel’s suspected nuclear arsenal is a major hurdle to any peace negotiations. Israel’s position is not to confirm or deny having nuclear weapons. Accession to the treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state would require Israel to abandon its ambiguous nuclear policy and place all nuclear facilities under IAEA monitoring.

Last year’s resolution required the IAEA director-general to report on progress in securing Israel’s accession to the NPT and in safeguarding all of its nuclear facilities. Amano’s Sept. 3 report said that Israel’s “nuclear material, facilities or other items to which safeguards had been applied remained in peaceful activities” but that the agency “is not in a position” to determine the extent of Israel’s unsafeguarded nuclear activities. In a Sept. 16 statement, the Arab League criticized the report, saying that it was “devoid of any substance and not up to the typical level of the Agency’s reporting.”


The members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Sept. 24 narrowly voted down a resolution expressing concern over Israeli nuclear capabilities and calling on the country to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The resolution, which was offered by the Arab Group, came to the floor on the last day of the week-long meeting of the IAEA General Conference in Vienna. The 51-46 vote against the resolution, with 54 abstentions or absences, marks a shift from last year, when a similar resolution passed by a vote of 49-46.


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